Laura Makepeace Stephen: What Was Wrong with Woolf’s Half-Sister?

Katerina Koutsantoni*, Madeleine Oakley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Laura Makepeace Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s half-sister from her father’s first marriage, is a figure who has only marginally been discussed in literary criticism. The limited corpus of references that exists on her life and mental health condition gives accounts of idiocy, lunacy, schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and sexual abuse. Laura Stephen was probably victim to at times crude Victorian generalisations and misdiagnoses due to limited medical knowledge, poor resources and lack of scientific research and investigation. Her childhood was spent in a familial environment riddled with prejudices and sheer embarrassment about bringing up a child whose development was seen as abnormal. From early adulthood, Laura was sent to a series of mental institutions which simply kept her surviving, alleviating her family’s sense of burden, but without any treatment interventions. In this paper, we hypothesise that her condition consisted of an intellectual disability and autism with a co-morbid psychosis. We consider the complexity of Laura Stephen’s case by examining a number of aspects including psychological and social dimensions of her life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-294
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2018


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